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Michigan Wolf Management

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 10:05 PM

      As many of you know, Michigan held its first wolf hunt in late 2013.  Although less wolves were harvested than what the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) had hoped for, they deemed the hunt a "success" due to the fact that the culling operation went smoothly and a number of problem wolves in key areas were removed resulting in a reduction of wolf/human conflicts coming from those particular areas.  

      I was disappointed that traps were not allowed to be used which I believe would have given the State the harvest number they wanted.  Hunting a wary predator in a densely forested region of the State during challenging weather conditions no doubt posed a major challenge for sport hunters - most of whom had never hunted wolves before.  I was glad to hear that the State is now considering trapping as a possible additional management tool.  The Great Lakes States of Minnesota and Wisconsin have successfully employed trapping in reducing wolf numbers -accounting for more than half of the wolves tagged.  

      Michigan's Department of Natural Resources along with the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), the governing body in charge of game laws, are wanting to retain citizen sportsmen-conducted wolf culls as a viable management plan in the future.  A organization called "Keep Michigan Wolves Protected," a front group funded and staffed by the nation's largest animal rights organization - The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), has a referendum drive underway to repeal Public Act 21 of 2013 which authorized the NRC to name game species and issue fisheries orders using sound science and provided free licenses to military members.  Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) wants all wolf harvest plans removed from the table with game animal status determined by popular vote.    

      To counter this anti-hunting effort, Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management (CPWM) was called into action with a petition drive of its own known as the "Scientific Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act to protect Michigan's outdoor heritage."  CPWM hopes to obtain approximately 258,000 valid signatures by the end of May to place a citizen-initiated law before the State legislature retaining the NRC as the sole determiner of game animal status.  With a largely pro-hunting legislature currently in place, CPWM officials are hopeful that the legislature will pass the measure without amendment - preventing it from going to ballot at the next general election.  The Act, if passed, will protect hunting rights by making sure that game decisions are made with sound science, provide free hunting and fishing licenses to active military members, and fight Asian carp by establishing an aquatic invasive species emergency response fund.  

      Here are some frequently asked questions on the above act with replies by CPWM staff:  

 

  • Q:  How does this initiative protect hunting rights?  A:  By making decisions about fish and game species based on sound science, rather than emotion, biologists can structure seasons and limits that are good for fish and wildlife.  Hunters, anglers and trappers don't want to take more fish or game than are supported by sound science.  If this initiative passes, anti-hunters won't be able to arbitrarily block hunting that is supported by sound science.
  • Q:  The Natural Resources Commissioners aren't all biologists, so how can they make scientific decisions?  A:  The NRC takes testimony from MDNR biologists, independent biologists and experts, and public input.  They also review scientific data, biological studies, and MDNR reports, memos and recommendations from MDNR biologists.  Just as a jury has a duty to consider the evidence presented to it at trial, the NRC has a duty to use principles of sound scientific fish and wildlife management when issuing fish and game orders, including designating game species.  While the NRC is appointed by the Governor, they are statutorily required to be bipartisan.  
  • Q:  What does the appropriation do?  Will it block the anti-hunters from a third referendum?  A:  It will have that effect, but its purpose is to support the NRC's authority to issue fisheries orders using sound science.  Asian carp and other aquatic invasive species represent a significant threat to Michigan's fisheries.  Once aquatic invasive species establish a reproducing population in Michigan waters, they are extremely difficult to eradicate.  The appropriation creates a work fund that the MDNR can use for rapid response to aquatic invasive species like Asian carp so that they can protect Michigan's fisheries.  
  • Q:  Isn't this just about hunting wolves?  A:  No.  While the anti-hunters attack on the wolf hunt alerted us to the need to make fish and game management decisions scientifically, this initiative is about fundamentally how we manage fish and wildlife species in Michigan.  If the anti-hunters win, fish and wildlife decisions will be determined by who can spend the most money on television commercials.  This initiative will ensure that fish and game decisions are made based on biology.  In fact, this initiative will not guarantee a wolf hunt; it will only guarantee that the decision about whether or not to have another wolf hunt is based on scientific data and the recommendations of professional biologists.  That's how wildlife management decisions should be made.  
  • Q:  Why does this bill contain free licenses for active military members?  Don't they already get them?   A:  Because they deserve it, and yes, they'll be able to receive free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses beginning in March 2014 under current law.  The anti-hunters are trying to repeal that law, though, SB 288, which also contained the NRC authorities to name game species and fisheries orders.  By including it in this initiative we protect free licenses for active military members from the anti-hunters' referendum.  
      I wish the Scientific Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act was limited strictly to the game animal issue in regards to gray wolf management, but as usual, other items often get tacked on to petitions for various political reasons.  Fortunately in this case, I believe that I can live with the other two added initiatives although I question how effective an emergency response fund would be in enabling the MDNR to take on a full scale silver and bighead carp invasion on the Great Lakes?!  I made a decision to support CPWM last month by becoming an official petition circulator and signature gatherer as I am determined to see the HSUS and its front group KMWP defeated in its efforts.  I strongly believe that our MDNR and NRC should have the ability to establish hunting and/or trapping seasons for gray wolves just as they currently do for other Michigan predators including black bears, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, fishers, martens, badgers, mink, weasels, skunks, raccoons, opossums and otters.  Under the North American wildlife management model no designated game species has ever been reduced to dangerous population levels due to sport hunting/fishing and fur trapping activities.  In fact, these species have thrived under game status due to a heightened economic incentive to conserve these creatures.  
      I highly recommend that all hunters, fishermen, fur trappers, conservationists and anyone wanting to see a healthy gray wolf population in Michigan's Upper Peninsula contact me as soon as possible to sign the petition.  Petition signers must be registered Michigan voters.  Let's allow our NRC to determine game animal status and harvest quotas so that we can hear the awesome howl of Canis lupus far into Michigan's future!
- Jim Burns

 


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4 Comments

Reply jimburns8727@gmail.com
1:19 AM on May 2, 2014 
Readers: Did some personal research on the Isle Royale study which resulted in the following interesting information to share...

The island has been under scientific study since 1958. It is believed that neither wolves or moose were on the island initially. It is held that multiple moose swam to the island in the early 1900s. A few wolves entered the island via an ice bridge in 1949. Once both populations were established, moose reached a high of 2,450 and a low of 540 individuals. Wolves reached a high of 50 and a low (currently) of 9 individuals. Normal ratio of moose to wolves over the study period: 45 to 1.

The island, since both predator & prey populations were established, has never been totally without wolves or moose.

Humans have never purposely acted to artificially raise or lower the populations of moose and wolves.

Inward and outward wolf migration has knowingly occurred only twice - via ice bridge use. No inward/outward moose movement has occurred from the island.

Biologists have no worry that wolves would drive island moose to extinction. If wolves drove moose to low levels of abundance, the wolf pop. would be at much greater risk of extinction due to lack of food. If wolves went extinct (which is much more likely to happen due to mutations), the moose pop. would increase greatly & be governed by a different set of relationships - forage & climate would become the most important determinants of moose abundance.

The moose population seesaws with balsam fir (their main food source) abundance. Although the forage base of the island has been extremely altered over the years, scientists haven't (until recently) been concerned about major habitat degradation.

At one time it was believed that both wolves and moose would slip into population equilibrium. That hasn't been the case throughout the history of the study - instead both populations have fluctuated unpredictably.

One of the Isle Royale scientists had been quoted as saying: "Voltaire was right: The more we know - the less certain we are." (Stated in reference to predicting outcomes of the wolf-moose population dynamics study).

Those wanting to learn more on the Isle Royale case should go to the website "Wolves & Moose of Isle Royale" ( www.isleroyalewolf.org ) hosted by the NSF, Michigan Tech & NPS.
- Jim Burns
Reply jimburns8727@gmail.com
12:45 AM on May 2, 2014 
jimburns8727@gmail.com says...
Hi Doug ~
Thanks for the comments. I've been following, with interest, the Isle Royale situation as well. In most cases, being a proponent of conservation principles and pro-active wildlife management, I would encourage human involvement in a scenario where a large herbivore (in this case the moose) could potentially cause serious damage to a ecosystem due to its unchecked population growth. As you know, I believe humans have always been a part of the equation since day six of creation. However, in the case of the Isle Royale situation, I find myself siding with those who demand a "hands-off approach" - which I believe is the current mandate in place due to the island being a biological laboratory established for the long-term study of predator-prey relationships. Isle Royale offers us a unique situation to see the boom-and-bust cycles of predators and their prey plus the impact that all of this has on other creatures and the habitat that they all depend upon.

I'm sure that both conservationists and preservationists will be intently watching all of this to see how it plays out. Questions that I have (at the time of this post) that I will be looking for answers to include the following: 1) What has been the past recorded island history in regards to wolf and moose numbers? 2) Did the island, under scientific investigation, ever lose all of its wolves in the recorded past? 3) Did it ever lose all of its moose? 4) What will be the impact on the habitat and island landscape if it experiences an unchecked population explosion of moose followed by an imminent crash? 5) How long will the wolves be able to hold out with in-breeding and other ailments afflicting their population? 6) Was the island mandate circumvented in the past through humans adding (or subtracting) animals to the picture? 7) What natural migration occurred in the past either on to the island or off the island due to Lake Superior being frozen over? Finally: How will the island results affect the conservation versus preservation debate?

Other questions could/should be asked. Perhaps our other members would like to weigh in on the above? It would be interesting to make predictions on what would happen if the island loses all of its wolves and weather conditions keep the island totally isolated. I think we got the makings of a great thread here, Doug!

- Jim
Reply jimburns8727@gmail.com
12:07 AM on April 25, 2014 
Hi Doug ~
Thanks for the comments. I've been following, with interest, the Isle Royale situation as well. In most cases, being a proponent of conservation principles and pro-active wildlife management, I would encourage human involvement in a scenario where a large herbivore (in this case the moose) could potentially cause serious damage to a ecosystem due to its unchecked population growth. As you know, I believe humans have always been a part of the equation since day six of creation. However, in the case of the Isle Royale situation, I find myself siding with those who demand a "hands-off approach" - which I believe is the current mandate in place due to the island being a biological laboratory established for the long-term study of predator-prey relationships. Isle Royale offers us a unique situation to see the boom-and-bust cycles of predators and their prey plus the impact that all of this has on other creatures and the habitat that they all depend upon.

I'm sure that both conservationists and preservationists will be intently watching all of this to see how it plays out. Questions that I have (at the time of this post) that I will be looking for answers to include the following: 1) What has been the past recorded island history in regards to wolf and moose numbers? 2) Did the island, under scientific investigation, ever lose all of its wolves in the recorded past? 3) Did it ever lose all of its moose? 4) What will be the impact on the habitat and island landscape if it experiences an unchecked population explosion of moose followed by an imminent crash? 5) How long will the wolves be able to hold out with in-breeding and other ailments afflicting their population? 6) Was the island mandate circumvented in the past through humans adding (or subtracting) animals to the picture? 7) What natural migration occurred in the past either on to the island or off the island due to Lake Superior being frozen over? Finally: How will the island results affect the conservation versus preservation debate?

Other questions could/should be asked. Perhaps our other members would like to weigh in on the above? It would be interesting to make predictions on what would happen if the island loses all of its wolves and weather conditions keep the island totally isolated. I think we got the makings of a great thread here, Doug!

- Jim

Doug Sharp says...
Recently there was a program on PBS talking about the wolf population on Isle Royal being down to about 9 individual wolves. What do you think might be the solution to that problem? Would you support importing a pack of wolves to the island?
Reply Doug Sharp
6:28 PM on April 24, 2014 
Recently there was a program on PBS talking about the wolf population on Isle Royal being down to about 9 individual wolves. What do you think might be the solution to that problem? Would you support importing a pack of wolves to the island?